NLD Struggles to find Candidates in Rakhine for Myanmar’s General Election

By Htun Htun 6 July 2020

Yangon — The National League for Democracy (NLD) has difficulty finding candidates for the November general election in conflict-torn Rakhine State, according to the party’s vice-chairman, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung. In the 2015 election, the NLD lost to the Rakhine ethnic party, Arakan National Party (ANP), and holds less than 20 percent of seats in the state parliament.

The NLD central executive committee meeting on Thursday discussed party members’ applications for candidacies in northern Rakhine, where Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA) are engaged in ongoing fighting. Some party members have recently applied for candidacies in Rakhine, said Dr. Zaw Myint Maung.

“We were very concerned about Rakhine State. There was talk that the election can’t be held in Rakhine State without the approval of the AA. It is difficult to find candidates. Now [party members] can apply for candidacies in Rakhine State. We are trying to get candidates for all the townships and we believe we will,” Dr. Zaw Myint Maung told reporters.

There are 47 seats — 35 elected seats and 12 set aside for military appointees — in the state parliament and the ANP won a majority of seats in 2015.

There are 61 constituencies in 17 townships in Rakhine. The NLD only won in 14 constituencies — one seat in the Upper House, an ethnic affairs minister position and seats for the Lower House and the state parliament in Myanaung, Thandwe, Taungup and Gwa townships in southern Rakhine.

According to NLD lawmakers, the selection of candidates at the township-level in southern Rakhine is complete.

“It can be dangerous to run an election in northern Rakhine State as there are active armed groups. We need to exercise extra caution because [the fighting] can spread to southern areas,” said state lawmaker U Win Naing for Thandwe Township.

While regional stability plays a factor, the NLD has little chance of winning the election in Rakhine, according to political observers.

“The NLD has not been strong in northern Rakhine since 2015, but not because of the clashes. It suffered a resounding defeat in the 2015 election. It will be even more difficult now. No non-Rakhine party has ever won an election in the state. Only ethnic parties have been strong,” said analyst U Maung Maung Soe.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced by clashes with the AA in northern Rakhine since January 2019.

“Displaced people in Rakhine State are occupied with return and resettlement and making a living rather than the election. So many of them do not think the election is necessary,” said U Tun Kyi, coordinator of a Kyaukphyu rural development association.

Although the Union Election Commission (UEC) has designated constituencies in the state, it cannot guarantee if voting will take place in conflict hotspots in northern Rakhine, said observer U Tun Kyi.

“If clashes continue, no one would dare to vote. It would be better if the Tatmadaw [military] introduced a ceasefire during the election period,” he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko